DENVER (CBS4) The warnings are out there, but the romance scam keeps collecting victims. Scammers use online dating sites to steal women’s hearts then drain their bank accounts. Romance scams are so common that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation estimates that for every victim that comes forward, there are probably another 100 that don’t.
“Victims clean out their bank accounts, victims cash in 401k’s, they cash in stocks, they refinance their homes,” said CBI Agent-In-Charge, Ralph Gagliardi about the lengths that people will go for love.
Every variation of the romance scam follows the same formula. The goal is money, but the con artists start with the heart. They find a connection and within 24 to 48 hours they’re in love and they want to move the conversation off the dating website. Soon after that, the crisis comes and the need for money.
“I sent him $85,000 in about a year and a quarter’s time,” one victim told CBS4 on the condition of remaining anonymous.
CBS4 talked to several victims of romance scams. Each asked to remain anonymous because of the personal nature of the crime.
“They took away my self-esteem, my dignity, my money,” one victim said.
Each reports being swept off their feet in a whirlwind of compliments and caring messages.
“I never had a man in my life that was so good with expressing himself,” another victim told CBS4.
“I was so empty inside. I was so desperate to find somebody that really cared about me.”
The combination of desire and just the right online response leads these victims to want to help when there is a crisis. The CBI estimates victims on average send $1,000 to $80,000 dollars as a result of this scam. Investigators have seen some victims lose up to $400,000.
“If people are willing to send money, I don’t think you can every lock it down completely,” Gagliardi said.
Coming forward is important to law enforcement. The CBI, Attorney General’s Office, Brighton Police and The Secret Service arrested a mother and daughter duo who were scamming people online. Police says that the women posed as United States Military Service men in Afghanistan and developed phony relationships with 374 victims scamming more than a million dollars. But investigators can’t find the scammers if the crime is never reported.
You can report a crime to the CBI by calling 303-239-4649 or 1-855-443-3489 (a 24-hour hotline) or e-mail ReportFraud@cdps.state.co.us. Another great resource is the Identity Theft Advocacy Network on Facebook
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– Written for the Web by CBS4 Special Projects Producer Libby Smith